"Women are naturally humane"
Urmila Pawar Dalit, Buddhist and feminist writer in Marathi
1. The book’s title is interesting MotherWit. How did you decide on it? Being a feminist, women in this short stories’ anthology are conventional yet have an inner conviction beyond the social norms.
MotherWit is not a common word, as they (the publishers) had chosen it. It means native wit or common sense. A mother undertakes decisions with integrity, earnestness and prudence that can be seen reflected in all my stories. Women, in general, are not pro-violence. Most women in history have been against war.
Consider my story, Baichi Jaat (Woman as Caste) where a man has remarried and is unrepentant as he nonchalantly tells his wife (Tara) to approach the court. She files for divorce but is constantly dissuaded from carrying on the case. Eventually, it is Tara’s stepmother who stands up for her. This is where women commit solidarity and look after each other’s interests.
Likewise, in Dhamma Chakra (Cycle of Dhamma) where a woman tells the village how to bury her husband through traditional rites of burial rather than the Brahmanical adopted rite of cremation. She goes against the village to make the point, something most urban women don’t do. Women are naturally humane and believe in the benefit of all.
2. What drew you to the short story genre and the twist-in-the-tale technique?
Firstly, as a writer, I believe in sketching positive portrayals, as that is what naturally comes to me. The amount of violence and abuse women have seen have made them positive by nature. As I write twist-in-the-tale storylines, I know the end, mostly. Regarding the message of strength and triumph of a woman’s will in the end, it’s simple; we have five fingers, even if one gets bruised, it’s the whole hand that suffers.
Vegli (The Odd One) and Shalya (Pain) are two stories where the women are under immense pressure and are looking for alternatives. In Vegli, Nandini is seeking to move out of her ‘dustbin’ -like house where her in-laws reside, to a new plot that she has got through the housing board’s lottery; and in Pain, a mother of five daughters swaps her just delivered girl child as she is under immense pressure to give a boy to the family.
With these two stories, I wasn’t keen to give twists, as it would have been an exaggeration. But a twist in the tale constantly helps in giving multiple perspectives. Plus, a different ending is my way of doing justice to the story.
3. You are described as a Buddhist, feminist and Dalit. How do all these schools of thought affect your identity as a storywriter?
My stand as an individual has been completely changed after the Dalit and Feminist movements. It is through these frameworks that my thoughts germinate. Regarding the plight of Dalit women, it is sad to note that people don’t treat social issues in an equal manner. When the Khairlanji massacre happened, the heinous acts of rape, assault, and insertion of poles into their vaginas were not covered for many days.
But in case of Nirbhaya, everyone gathered to protest and light candles. Still, pain is pain there is no distinction to it. There are so many Dalit women writers that have not been given due recognition such as Vimal Gadekar, Pradnya Daya Pawar and others whose literature never comes to the forefront, which is sad.